Some engineers from automakers based in Detroit cried foul last week when Consumers Reports named its top 10 vehicles of the year, and for the first time they were all Japanese.
It ain't fair, they said. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler group vehicles are better than ever. How can they not be included?
Actually, the grousing in Detroit isn't new.
For more than two decades, Consumer Reports' rankings and reviews have steadily swung to favor Japanese-brand cars and trucks. That has led some critics in Detroit to suggest that the magazine has for some time had a bias against vehicles produced by GM, Ford and the Chrysler group and a predisposition toward Japanese cars and trucks.
But in fairness, Consumer Reports has panned Japanese vehicles too. Remember the Suzuki Samurai?
You can sense the frustration in Detroit.
But who cares what some silly magazine publishes? Even if it is read by more than 5 million consumers.
Why would Detroit automakers waste their breath complaining?
I'll tell you why: Maybe some of those engineers have seen Jack Fitzgerald's data.
Fitzgerald is president of Fitzgerald Auto Malls in Rockville, Md. He is a longtime dealer who sells a variety of domestic and import brands. He's also a thinker and a longtime Consumer Reports reader.
And as a student of the industry, he has a theory about the importance of the magazine. You see, Jack has data going back decades that show the correlation between favorable ratings from Consumer Reports and improvements in market share, plus the correlations between lousy ratings and drops in market share.
Yes, it seems simple and intuitive. You would expect cars that do well in objective testing to sell well too, wouldn't you?
But Jack believes Consumer Reports influences buyers. Therefore, it's important for automakers to strive to do well in the magazine's ratings. And he has data from his own market area that support his view.
Jack paid for a study by a big-name firm that shows counties with a greater number of better-educated, well-heeled consumers -- the kind who read Consumer Reports -- buy more imports. Conversely, counties with less-educated consumers tend to buy more domestics.
He believes his data are key to improved sales for Ford and GM, and he's willing to share it.
Even though he would like to see the domestic automakers make a stronger showing, Jack discounts the bias charges you sometimes hear in Detroit.
His reasoning: Why would the union members at Consumer Reports do anything that might jeopardize the future of companies -- such as GM, Ford and the Chrysler group -- that have so many employees who are their brothers and sisters in organized labor?
After all, Consumers Union was founded 60 years ago by three people who were fired from a research firm because they joined a union. And 55 years ago, the Newspaper Guild of New York began representing the organization's unionized employees.
Of course, Jack may be a great dealer, but he's not in the newspaper business, so he can be forgiven for thinking of the Newspaper Guild as a real union.
Besides, editorial ethics preclude reporters and editors from allowing their social, political or economic views to influence their objective testing. Don't they?
You can make all kinds of back-and-forth arguments about whether Consumer Reports has a predisposition toward the imports.
But one thing is clear. If Jack Fitzgerald's theory is right, you can expect another drop in market share for Detroit's automakers.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]